My parents have many fruit trees including citrus, avocado, and fig, and they asked me what’s the best potting soil they should be using. I had an idea, but to find out more, I did some research and testing. Here’s what I found.
The best soil for fruit trees is sandy, loamy soil. You can achieve this by mixing equal parts sand, peat moss, perlite, and compost. Since sand and peat moss are acidic, and perlite and compost have a neutral pH, mixed together they make a slightly acidic, rich, and well-draining soil—perfect for fruit trees.
So, while sandy, loamy soil is best for fruit trees, what exactly does this mean, and what are the best brands of potting soil we can buy for fruit trees? Let’s take a closer look.
Which Type of Soil Is Best for Fruit Trees?
|Sand||Good drainage||Doesn’t hold nutrients well|
|Silt||Holds nutrients well||Poor drainage|
|Clay||Holds the most nutrients||Even worse drainage than silt|
Ideally, fruit tree soil should have a mix of sand, silt, and clay. A properly balanced soil will provide fruit trees with sufficient nutrients, drainage, pH, and space. Generally, full-size fruit trees require a depth of 36 inches of topsoil while dwarf or potted fruit trees require a minimum of 18-24 inches of soil.
Each type of soil (sand, silt, and clay) has its pros and cons. To achieve all of the pros and minimize all of the cons, garden soil should be a mix of all three materials—which is called loam soil.
However, since fruit trees prefer slightly acidic and well-draining soil, and sand has both of these qualities, sandy-loam soil works best.
Fruit tree soil should have all of the below qualities for the best growth and fruiting:
- Sandy and Loamy
- A pH of 6.0-7.0
On the other hand, fruit tree soil should not have:
- Dead or collapsed soil
- Heavy clay
- Poor drainage
- pH below 5.0 (acidic) or above 7.0 (alkaline)
First off, what is rich soil?
Soil that is rich means that it has lots of underground plant and animal activity, which includes earthworms and beneficial fungi. Rich soil usually is correlated with plenty of nutrients and has more organic matter, making darker, rounded aggregates which promote water and aeration for roots.
Most commercial potting soils are formulated to have the proper balance of drainage, pH, and nutrients and are great to use for fruit trees. So, you don’t need to make your own potting soil (although, it might yield better results).
Additionally, fruit tree potting soil should have a pH of 6.0-7.0, which is slightly acidic.
The reason why fruit trees prefer a slightly acidic soil pH is because it’s the level of acidity that best dissolves the nutrients in the soil. After all, a plant’s roots aren’t able to absorb nutrients sufficiently unless they’re dissolved or water-soluble.
Fourteen of the seventeen essential plant nutrients are obtained from the soil. Before a nutrient can be used by plants it must be dissolved in the soil solution. Most minerals and nutrients are more soluble or available in acid soils than in neutral or slightly alkaline soils.Donald Bickelhaupt, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
While sticking to the general rule of a 6.0-7.0 soil pH for fruit trees will work well, if you want a more accurate estimate, I put together this table of the most common fruit trees and their preferred soil pH.
|Fruit Tree||Preferred pH|
To recap, fruit tree potting soil should be sandy, loamy soil that has sufficient nutrients, drainage, pH, and space.
While this may seem like a lot of hoops to jump through, there’s a lot of wiggle room and commercial potting soils will more than do the job.
Now that we know what we should be looking for in fruit tree potting soil, let’s take a look at the top 3 brands (along with a secret homemade potting soil recipe).
The Top 3 Potting Soils for Fruit Trees
1. Espoma’s Organic Potting Mix
I’ve used Espoma’s Organic Potting Mix for my potted Meyer lemon, but also for my herbs, microgreens, and other houseplants. I first discovered Espoma at a local nursery, and later found out Amazon also sells it.
While I had to do a bit of investigating to find out the pH, I found this potting mix’s pH is between 6.5-7, which is great for most fruit trees. If you’d prefer a bit more acidity in your fruit tree’s potting soil, I would recommend mixing in a small amount of sand, peat moss, or coffee grounds to lower the pH.
- Organic and higher quality: Espoma’s potting soil is organic, which is surprisingly tough to find online, especially for a reasonable price. They use quality ingredients such as worm castings along with other organic materials.
- Found at many nurseries: As I mentioned earlier, I first discovered Espoma at my local nursery. So, it might be worth giving a few local nurseries a call to see if they carry it and how much they’re charging.
- Higher cost: While Espoma’s organic potting mix is of higher quality, it can be expensive. However, if you only need a small amount of soil for your potted fruit tree, the extra few dollars are likely worth it.
- Higher pH: This potting mix is listed at a pH of 6.5-7, which can be slightly too alkaline for some fruit trees. However, this is an easy fix. Simply mix in 10% sand, peat moss, or coffee grounds.
You can find Espoma’s Organic Potting Mix at most nurseries or you can buy it on Amazon.
2. Kellogg’s Organic Potting Mix
I’ve used Kellogg’s regular organic potting mix for my indoor and outdoor container garden with good results.
My only complaint about their potting mixes is that they’re a bit too woody and the pieces are large, which means the soil doesn’t hold water too well.
To combat this, I’ve added compost and other amendments to this potting soil to increase the amount of moisture it can hold.
Other than that, Kellogg’s is a good purchase at a great price, especially if you need large volumes of potting soil for your citrus trees.
- Premixed formula: This incredible soil is premixed, so all you have to do is plant your fruit tree, and you’ll be good to go.
- High customer ratings: Of those who reviewed this product, 75% said they would recommend this potting mix, given that it worked well for their plants. Again, amending with materials such as compost would likely boost this percentage even more.
- Ideal for indoor and outdoor use: This soil can be used in a container or for planting outdoors. It’s also great for repotting. So, you can use it for all of your planting needs.
- Provides too much drainage: Kellogg’s formula contains sand, perlite, and peat, which allows the soil to drain. However, it can drain too much, requiring more frequent watering. For best results, mixing this potting soil with some moisture-boosting amendments such as compost or peat moss.
You can get Kellogg’s organic potting mix at Home Depot.
3. Miracle-Gro’s Cactus Palm and Citrus Potting Soil Mix
Miracle-Gro’s potting mix is third on my list. This is the only brand I have not tried. However, I couldn’t ignore it based on the positive reviews and how many times I’ve seen it mentioned across the web.
The main issues I have with Miracle-Gro’s potting mix are based on a little bias. I naturally steer away from some of the larger brands, especially if they don’t offer organic options.
However, this is my bias, so if you don’t have any issues with it, then Miracle-Gro’s potting mix is likely a good purchase for you at a fair price.
- Contains peat moss, perlite, and fertilizer: These ingredients help keep the soil well-drained and loose, keeping your fruit trees happy and healthy.
- Relatively cheap: One 28 lb bag costs less than other options on our list and can be used for both indoor and outdoor plants.
- A few customers received bad soil: Some reviewers mentioned that the soil they bought contained gnats and fungus. However, Miracle-Gro offers a product guarantee, and they seemed responsive to getting them a solution.
You can get Miracle-Gro’s potting mix at your local nursery or you can buy it on Amazon.
Bonus: Homemade Fruit Tree Potting Soil
If you aren’t happy with any of the above recommendations, or if you’re interested in making your own fruit tree potting soil at home, this section is for you.
I’ve spent many hours researching and testing the best soils for fruit trees, and I’ve included all of the best information here.
Here’s the best recipe I’ve found for homemade fruit tree potting soil:
|Sand||1/4||Improves soil drainage and acidity|
|Peat Moss||1/4||Softens the soil and provides acidity|
|Perlite||1/4||Aerates the soil and improves drainage|
|Compost||1/4||Provides nutrients and water retention|
If you aren’t familiar with some of these ingredients, here’s a quick summary (along with the links to Amazon in case you’d like to make your own fruit tree soil):
- Sand is mostly made up of silicon dioxide from quartz. Erosion from the wind, rain, and freezing/thawing cycles greatly contribute to weathering rocks into sand. White sand from beaches is a bit different as it’s mostly calcium carbonate from shells from marine life (source).
- Peat moss is made of decomposed fiber from moss and other life found in peat bogs. It can hold a large volume of moisture and is slightly acidic.
- Perlite is a mineral that is a type of volcanic glass. You’ve likely seen it before as the small white rocks in commercial soil mixes. Perlite helps break up clumps of soil and provides aeration to the roots of the tree, reducing the chance of root rot.
- Compost is simply organic material that’s been decomposed. Most often, compost is made from plants, but it can also be made from animal products. It provides a wide range of nutrients that are easily absorbed by plants and tends to have a neutral pH, depending on how the compost is made. This makes it a great alternative to fertilizer for most plants.
So, using 1/4 of each sand, peat, perlite, and compost is an amazing recipe for homemade fruit tree soil. The end result is rich, loose, well-draining, and slightly acidic soil.
When mixing your own potting soil, avoid using gravel or rocks as they create too much drainage and take up space where valuable nutrients should be instead. This also means not placing them on the bottom of the pot for drainage.
While mixing your own fruit tree soil is fairly easy for potted fruit trees, the volume needed for planted fruit trees in the garden can make it more difficult. In this case, if you need to amend large amounts of your garden’s soil, it’s best to plant your fruit trees in mounds.
If you’d like more information about planting fruit trees in mounds, you can check out my recent post here: Can Fruit Trees Grow in Clay Soil (If So, Which Ones)?.
What To Know Before Planting Fruit Trees
I’ve had many fruit trees that died due to me not understanding their needs. Before you buy or plant your fruit tree, consider learning the following about your fruit tree:
- Hardiness Zone
- Time to Fruit
- Growing Difficulty
- Growing Requirements
- Pollination Requirements
- Root Invasiveness
- If it’s Poisonous to Pets or Livestock
To see more details about all of the above steps, feel free to check out my post: 7 Things to Know Before Buying a Fruit Tree.
How To Plant Fruit Trees
Planting fruit trees can be tricky, but with some practice and preparations, it can go more smoothly.
Here are the steps that I use whenever I’m planting a new fruit tree or repotting an existing one. They really help in reducing transplant shock (which can stunt the tree and last up to one year):
- Have the new ground (or pot) prepared
- Remove as much of the tree’s current topsoil as possible, without damaging the shallow roots
- Grab the base of the tree’s trunk and wiggle lightly
- Using your other hand, scoop up and support the rootball
- Lightly place the tree in the new ground (or pot) and fill it in
- Make sure the soil is at the same level on the trunk as before
- Apply 1-2 inches of compost and mulch to the top of the soil
- Water generously and add more soil as needed
More Tips for Fruit Tree Soil
- Amend sandy soils with alkaline materials such as charcoal, wood ash, and lime.
- Amend clay soils with acidic materials such as coffee grounds, peat moss, and sand.
- Plant on 1 to 2-foot mounds to promote more drainage and help the tree establish roots in rich, loose soil, rather than being blocked by compacted clay.
- Mulch fruit trees in all climates, especially in hot and dry weather. Some good mulches for fruit trees are leaves, bark, straw, pine needles, and grass clippings.
- Avoid fertilizing fruit trees in the winter as many fruit trees go dormant in the winter, such as cherry trees.
For a more accurate soil analysis, including how much soil amendment you should use, consult your local nursery, professional orchard, or cooperative extension service.